Lots of experts say it's stupid to forbid yourself from eating certain foods – that denying yourself something you really want to eat can ultimately lead to binge eating and eventual weight gain. So dessert isn't on this list — it's OK to indulge sometimes! But some foods really do deserve the axe — especially if you are trying to lose weight. In which case, avoid these foods (when you can!) to fend off cravings and hunger, and support your efforts to slim down.
1. Any Snack That Only Contains Carbs
When you eat crackers, dry cereal, bread, or rice cakes alone, your body converts the carbs to simple sugars, and sends it directly into your blood stream. In response to the sugar rush, your body produces extra insulin, which helps your body absorb the sugar ASAP. The problem: You end up with low blood sugar and the same hunger pangs that led you to carb it up in the first place. You then may be inclined to reach for sugary foods with no nutritional value to satisfy your need for instant energy, says Dr. Charlie Seltzer, M.D., a weight-loss specialist based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
It's not that carbs are off-limits entirely. That'd be crazy — and it's no way to live! The point is that snacks containing a combination of carbs, healthy fats, and protein take longer to digest, and will, therefore, tide you over for longer. Another thing: When you treat snacks as balanced mini meals, they contribute to a balanced diet (instead of just holding you over between full balanced meals). Try a slice of bread with nut butter, or whole grain crackers with low-fat cheese, suggests Rachel Harvest, a registered dietitian affiliated with Tournesol Wellness in New York.
2. Frozen Meals
To make fresh ingredients last extra long in your freezer, food manufacturers often load frozen meals with sodium, a natural preservative, Harvest says. Sodium makes you retain water, which bloats you up – so you won't look and feel your best regardless of how much weight you want to lose.
Also: When food manufacturers try to squeeze a meal's worth of calories into a teeny tiny box, every bite ends up containing lots of calories by design, Harvest adds. While large portions trick your brain into thinking your body is full, the measly portions found in freezer meals are inherently unsatisfying, even though they contain plenty of calories. So skip them if you can, and supersize your portions of lower-calorie foods.
3. High-Fiber Snack Bars
Yes, everyone needs fiber — it keeps your digestive system churning and keeps you feeling full, even when you're cutting back on calories. What you don't need: Nearly one day's worth of fiber (about 25 grams) in one snack bar, with a diet that's otherwise devoid of it, Harvest says. "Fiber intake has to be consistent throughout the day to stave off hunger, improve digestive health, and not cause stomach upset." So ditch the bars, and try to include some kind of naturally fiber-rich produce — any fruit or veggie will do— in every snack and meal.
4. "Low-Fat" Foods
Research suggests that people tend to eat upwards of 30 percent more when they know they're eating a food that's low fat. The problem (besides overeating, which can thwart your weight loss goals fast) is that when food makers remove fat from food, they inevitably remove some of the flavor. To compensate, they often add sugar, which makes the product even worse for you.
It takes several oranges to make one 6-ounce glass of OJ, but when you drink juice, you consume all the calories from those oranges without the natural fruit fibers that fill you up. It's why "even 100 percent juice is just empty calories and another blood sugar spike," Harvest says.
Another thing: Fructose, the natural fruit sugar that makes fruit and fruit juice taste sweet, tricks your body into gaining weight by blunting your body's ability to recognize when it's full, says Melissa Rifkin, a registered dietitian at Montefiore Medical Center in New York and a Risenutrition coach. This makes you eat more, and increases your risk of developing insulin resistance and diabetes.
6. Artificially Sweetened Drinks
Goodbye, diet soda, and every other sweet-tasting drink that mysteriously contains zero calories! "There are some people whose brains are wired in a way that artificial sweeteners induce or enhance cravings," says Dr. Seltzer. "If drinking a Diet Snapple leads you to the Ben & Jerry's, then you'd certainly be better off with water or water with lemon." Or sparkling water: It's calorie-free, but carbonated, which makes your stomach feel full so you end up eating less overall.
7. Cereal Sold in a Value-Size Box
The same goes for super-sized snack packages. People consume up to 22 percent more when they eat from larger packages, according to a study conducted by researchers at Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab. When people know there is more food available, they subconsciously let themselves eat more of it. The same goes for food you buy on sale: you're more likely to consume more when food costs less, according to another study. That's not to say you should spend more on food to eat less overall — it's unsustainable (and silly). If you're going to spring for a value pack of any packaged food, measure out your serving instead of eating out of the bag so you don't fall pray to your own mind's games.
It's almost impossible to find a weight loss expert who recommends alcohol for weight loss. (Believe me, I tried.) While some cocktails have fewer calories than others, alcohol just doesn't support weight loss. It contains empty calories that don't fill you up or provide any nutrients; softens your resolve so you're more likely to overeat; and impairs your judgement, regardless of your weight loss goals. (It's why you drunk eat pizza, not salad.) But it gets worse: "When alcohol is present in your body, it's considered a toxin that your body wants to get rid of, and becomes you liver's top priority," says Dr. Caroline Cederquist, MD, creator of bistroMD. When your liver is in hardcore detox mode, it can't burn fat as efficiently. Because that's a major buzz kill, skip the buzz altogether if you're serious about losing weight. Or at least cut back on the booze, big time.